We have a large multi-purpose room in our church that we love to use for events, but when it’s full of people, the noise is terrible. The room has a vinyl floor, sheetrock walls and a sheetrock ceiling. Are there any church acoustical treatments that we can put in place to make this a better experience for everyone?
I have two pieces of good news for you:
You’re not the first one with this problem.
I’ve got a very straightforward approach that has worked in every instance where it was used, so there is a solution.
As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I’ve been asked “How many panels do I need?” enough times that I figured that there had to be a relationship between the size/volume of a room and the number of panels that made people comfortable in that room.
Cubic Volume × 3% = square footage of panels
I would probably start by installing some kind of acoustical panel directly onto the ceiling of the room, for two main reasons:
In a room like this, there aren’t likely to be objects hitting the ceiling.
The panels might tend to be a little bit less distracting on the ceiling than they would on the walls.
Another thing that I run into all the time for projects like this is that the budget to fix the problem is quite lean, and understandably so. Building is expensive. I usually send out three product samples for churches in situations like this to consider:
In just about every installation, people end up purchasing the Echo Eliminator panels, mostly because of the price. These are some of the most cost effective, Class A-rated acoustical panels on the market. They are also some of the most absorbent. They are not the most aesthetically pleasing panels in the world, nor are they the most abuse resistant, but if they are put on the ceiling or high up on the walls, you are so far away from them when you’re standing on the ground, that you are not likely to notice anyway.
The Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass panels are MUCH more decorative looking and just as absorbent, but they are probably three or four times the cost as the Echo Eliminator panels. Most people who are sitting in a church board meeting looking at samples REALLY want to go with the Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass option, but when they compare the quotes, it’s usually not in the budget.
Good luck, and we hope that your church is now full of the joyful noise that was meant to be!
Church acoustics in fellowship halls or multi-purpose rooms are some of the more frequent rooms that we are asked for recommendations for acoustical treatment. These rooms have a few very common similarities that are the reason for the need for acoustical wall panels or acoustical ceiling panels. These rooms are often quite large so that a large number of people can use the room at the same time. They also commonly have cinder block or sheetrock walls, a vinyl tile or linoleum floor. If carpet is present, it is almost always a very low pile, industrial carpet.
How Many Panels Do I Need?
As far as echo and reverberation are concerned, the larger the room, the more square footage of acoustical treatment is needed to get the proper level noise control. Over the last few years, I have talked to thousands of people and a series of the same questions continues to be asked. “How many panels do I need?” This is a simple question that needs to be asked. The answer, however, is not as simple because rooms and the needs of rooms are always different. For simplicity’s sake, I know that rooms like this don’t need “recording studio” sound quality. They do need a noise control solution that takes the edge off so that when the room is filled with people the noise level is not ear splitting.
I’ve come up with a very simple equation to start with to answer the question above. This is not a guarantee or a necessity, but it is a generalization that I have had an extremely high success rate with. The square footage of paneling generally needed is found by multiplying the cubic volume of the room by 3%.
Again, there is not a right or wrong answer to this question but there are some tendencies or trend that I do want to explain. Although there are hundreds of different kinds of acoustical treatments (including wall panels, ceiling panels, cloud baffles, diffusers, etc.), when it comes to treating a room like this, this extensive list of options is just about always reduced to two different types of panels. These are our Decorative Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass Panels and our Echo Eliminator Panels.
The Fabric Wrapped Panels are custom made boards of fiberglass that are cut to size and wrapped with a decorative fabric. This option offers the most freedom of panel size and color which is very attractive to quiet a few people. The unfortunate part about the product is that because it is custom made and made by hand, it also comes with a higher price tag. This price tag often makes this option less attractive or simply not an option. Especially for a multi-purpose room where aesthetics isn’t as critical as it would be in a room like a sanctuary, our Echo Eliminator recycled cotton panels become much more attractive.
These acoustical panels are made from recycled cotton fiber and we offer them in nine different colors. They have an absorption rating that makes them an extremely efficient acoustical treatment. Because they are made from a recycled material, they are also very cost effective. They can be used as wall panels or ceiling panels and are most often glued directly to the structure with a construction adhesive and a contact adhesive. They are Class A fire rated, which is always important as well.
Where Should I Put These Panels?
My answer to this question almost always surprises people. For all practical purposes, to take the edge off of a room, the exact location of the acoustical wall panels or ceiling panels does not matter nearly as much as the square footage of panels introduced into the room. This leaves the end user with a lot of freedom to put the panels in a location where they will be most discreet.
The only two recommendations that I would like to pass along would be to space the panels out as evenly as possible throughout the room and, if the aesthetic works, space the panels out (rather than installing them one next to the other). Installing them throughout the room will give you the most even acoustical result and by spacing them apart, you will effectively increase the overall surface area of absorption and increase the performance of the panels as a whole.
In December of 2006, Dennis contacted me about the multi-purpose room at the Bon Air Church of the Nazarene in Kokomo, Indiana. He was collecting information about products and treatments for the room. We talked briefly about the room and a few of the more popular products that he might be interested in and I put some samples and literature together and sent them to him. We spoke about the advantages and disadvantages of the products and he took the information to the committees and decision makers of the church.
Like all projects that I have done with houses of worship, the project was discussed and questions were asked, and ultimately the Echo Eliminator panels were chosen due to the low cost of the product and the high absorption numbers. Dennis sent me the measurements of the room and based on the size of the room and the surface that were present, I used the following equation to help him start to figure out how many panels the church was going to need.
This multipurpose room measures roughly 55′ × 65′ and has 20′ ceilings. The equation that I used to determine the square footage needed is listed above.
Based on the numbers from above, Dennis worked with church members to come up with a unique and decorative pattern for the cotton panels. The church purchased 64 panels of the Light Gray, 110 panels of the Pure Blue and 20 panels of the Navy Blue. They also purchased the cutting blade to cut the 2′ × 4′ panels down as needed.
Most of our panels are adhered to the walls or ceiling of a room, but this type of installation is very permanent. Although most people are never going to want the echo problem to return, the idea of using a construction adhesive to install the cotton panels isn’t ideal. In this case, the installers used small nails to hang the panels. I do not know the exact details of how it was done, but they pulled it off very well.
We have installed our sound panels. I have attached a picture to show you the pattern we chose. I will be sending the saw blade back to you tomorrow. We have seen a significant reduction in echo, and we especially can understand speech much clearer.
We used nails to put up the panels. The color consistency was good, and they look good in this application. I would be interested in your thoughts.
Do you have a fellowship hall?!? Do the noise levels in your fellowship hall get to uncomfortable levels when filled with people?!? Have you been lucky enough to be the one chosen to find out how to fix this?!? Will you have an entire committee to report to?!? Do you have a limited budget but need to come up with a solution that is aesthetically pleasing enough to pass a committee vote?!? Well, friends, this is the article for you. (This has been written in my best used-car/infomercial sales guy voice) 🙂
I get quite a few calls from people doing research on how to acoustically treat fellowship halls as these types of rooms have a few things going against them from the beginning. Almost all fellowship halls have hard, tile floors either sheetrock/drywall or concrete walls which both reflect a large amount of sound. They are also large, spacious rooms that are intended to house a lot of people. When these rooms are full and people start talking the noise level increases. This causes people to increase their voice level and talk louder so they can be heard over the background noise, and the problem gets exponentially worse.
Acoustical panels are really the only way to control the noise pressure levels in these types of rooms which means that some of the walls or ceiling surfaces are going to need to be covered. There are a lot of different options on the market for acoustical wall or ceiling panels and each of these options offers it’s own advantages and disadvantages but for this, I am only going to talk about one. I am narrowing it down so absolutely for reasons that I will explain further.
The WallMate high-tension fabric system is the product that was chosen to treat the fellowship hall of the Oakwood United Methodist Church, here in Minnesota. This is a do-it-yourself system where we provide the pieces and parts for the system and the panels are built on site. The WallMatetrack frames each panel very similar to the canvas stretcher for a canvas painting; pulling tension in all directions at once. The absorbent core is the very cost effective and very absorptive Echo Eliminator panels which are adhered directly to the wall, inside the track. The customer then puts the fabric in place (being held temporarily by a two-sided, alignment tape) and clicks the top track shut followed by the bottom and then each side. Like anything else, there is a bit of a learning curve to the installation but once that is done the install should go pretty quickly.
The advantages of this option are quite plentiful in situations like this. First, and most importantly, the cost – the WallMate is the lowest cost, yet decorative acoustical panel system on the market. The pieces and parts can be shipped by UPS Ground at low quantities which is cheaper than shipping on a pallet. Second, because the panels are built on site, the customer is able to fabricate panels only limited in size by the size of the fabric bolt so the installers are able to get as creative as they want. Third, the acoustical core is a VERY cost effective, easy to use, recycled and formaldehyde free panel that can be cut with a sharp pair of scissors and glued easily to the wall. Fourth, the fabric can be swapped out or replaced at any time by simply popping the track open, putting new fabric in place and snapping it shut so if the look of the room needs to be modified or if someone hits the panel with a dirty volleyball, you do not have to completely replace the panel. Last, the performance. Because the cotton has an NRC of .80, it is a very effective product for controlling echo and reverberation.
Just about every congregation out there has a contractor or two, about six handy-men/women as well as a few that pretend to be handy-men but are willing to help. This product is able to be installed by two out of three of these kinds of people. There are some simple skills and common sense involved and I am always happy to field installation questions as the workers are planning how to tackle this job. I ALWAYS suggest that an extra stick or two of track are purchased and the installers build a small 1’ x 1’ or 18” x 18” board on a piece of plywood before starting on the wall. This will help them learn the two things that require tactile experience and trial and error – the pre-tension on the fabric and tucking the corners. These two things will require the most practice and skill.
Fabric – just about ALWAYS a topic of debate when it comes down to the final decisions. I’ve talked to hundreds of people who have been selected or appointed the task of finding an acoustical treatment for fellowship halls and the topic that is the most discussed is the fabric. Here’s the deal with the fabric – listen to whoever wears matching clothes the most often – they are going to probably make the best choice. I don’t have much to offer when it comes to color, and please understand that I don’t even pretend to be an interior designer, but years of doing this have taught me that it’s best to NOT try to match the walls – to use a complimentary color. If you try to match the walls, the color will be close enough to be close, but off enough to look bad. Like wearing two black socks that were purchased a few months apart. They’re both “black” but not the same black.
“How many panels do we need?!” Although I am going to spit out a simple one, the answer to this question is quite variable. There isn’t a cut-and-dry or “always do this” way to acoustically treat a room. I commonly tell people that the rooms and acoustical treatment are just as different from one place to another as are the people that use the rooms. So, my point is that the exact square footage of panels that is going to be perfect for your room is going to change from one room to another. With my disclaimer out there, here is the simple equation that I have used for years and been very successful with:
Cubic Volume of the room x 3% = Square footage to install.
Multiply the height, width and depth for the cubic volume.
Multiply that number by .03.
What ever number you are left with, the total area of your acoustical paneling should be close to that number. From there, it just comes down to a point of fine tuning the room once these panels are installed.
To “take the edge off” of the room and just lower the echo and reverberation of the room, the important thing becomes how many panels, not necessarily EXACTLY where they are located. This leaves you with a lot of freedom when it comes to panel location. You don’t have to put the panels in ANY specific location for them to do their job. If you were building a recording studio or something my answer here would be different, but in cases like these, put the panels wherever you want so they will either look the best or blend in with the rest of the room. You are going to get a bit more balanced acoustic when you are done by balancing them throughout the room rather than putting them exclusively on one wall, but that’s all the help I can offer.
If you have questions that aren’t answered by this article, by all means, feel free to call or e-mail me. I will do whatever I can to help make your quest for acoustical panels easier. If this looks like a possibility and you want some samples of the cotton, the track and a few sample fabric lines, feel free to ask.
We are looking for some help in recommending and pricing some panels that will help cut down on the echo in our Family Life Center.
This room is used for contemporary worship on Sunday morning with live bands. The echo or “slap back” is challenging for the bands.
The panels will also need to be able to withstand the occasional basketball hit.
We actually set-up bands on the main floor in front of the stage and/or to the right of the stage.
The room is approx. 65′ wide by 100′ deep.
See attached photos.
My thoughts are to put up 8 panels across the rear wall.
Approx. dimensions for estimating;
2 panels 4′ wide x 17′ high
2 panels 4′ x 11′
2 panels 4′ x 9′
2 panels 4′ x 7′
We would want something that is neutral in color and appearance to blend in with the wall.
While we are at it, perhaps panels that would allow us to hang seasonal banners over them for decoration.
I’ve volunteered to come up with a plan that will then be presented to the property management team for approval.
Your help and consideration is greatly appreciated.
Feel free to call me with any questions.
Thank you for the description and pictures! Seeing a space like this is a great help for me as I tend to be a right brained person. I have a few things that I want to briefly explain, but if you have time, please feel free to contact me.
The first thing that I noticed was the physical volume and size of this room. The place is massive! I really like your idea of putting panels on the back wall (and it kind of reminds me of a cell phone commercial), we have the most bars in the most places? But, the thing that throws up a bit of a red flag for me is that although this is a good start and a great design, it may not be enough overall square footage to really make a noticeable dent in the acoustics and reverberation of the room. It’s a good starting place, and will help, but I wanted to share that before I got too far into it.
As far as treatment goes, three products came to mind, each having their own respective advantages and disadvantages. I will do my best to briefly explain each and if you would like, I would also be happy to get some physical product samples to you so that you could see them in person which is often a great help.
The Echo Eliminator panels are made from recycled cotton and are, by far, the most cost effective. They can be shipped in boxes via UPS and are in stock in nine different colors. The panels are 2′ x4′ and very easy to install. The disadvantage of this option is the aesthetic as some times people do not feel that it is “finished” looking enough. We are limited to 2′ x 4′ panels and the standard colors. Roughly, the 1″ panels are $4.00 per square foot and the 2″ panels are $5.50 per square foot (not including shipping or adhesives).
The Wall Mate system is basically a way to cover up the Echo Eliminator panels offering a more finished aesthetic. I like to use the analogy of a canvas painting here, where the wooden stretcher pulls the tension on the canvas. The advantages here are the use of the low-cost Echo Eliminator, the ability to make panels in sizes that are limited to the width of the fabric bolt, and the freedom to use one of hundreds of different color fabrics. The disadvantage is that this product requires the most site labor to install as these are all put together by the end user. There is a bit of a learning curve to get over, but once that is done it usually goes quite quickly. This is a more difficult product to ballpark because the cost will depend on the sizes of the panels that you are building, but you would have the square foot cost of the cotton plus $2.95 per linear foot for the track, and usually $14.95 – $16.95 per linear yard for the fabric (usually in 66″ wide bolts). Again, this does not include adhesive or shipping.
The Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass panels offer the same, finished aesthetic of the WallMate system but they arrive on site as prefabricated, ready-to-install panels. These start as 4′ x 8′ or 4′ x 10′ boards of fiberglass and one of four edges is cut onto the side (square, radius, beveled and half-beveled) before each is wrapped with a decorative fabric. The advantage of this product is the freedom of panel size (up to 4′ x 10′) and the freedom of color of fabric used. They are shipped ready to install, so the shipping is relatively easy. The disadvantage of this option is usually the cost. Because they are custom made panels, we have a good amount of labor and parts that go into their manufacturing. Additionally, because of the weight and fragile nature of the board, they are crated in plywood and shipped on pallets, so the shipping can be costly. Again, the price for this option will depend on the sizes and quantities of the panels along with the fabric chosen, but ballpark numbers are $7.50 per square foot for the 1″ panels and $13.00 per square foot for the 2″ panels.
I am a systems integrator in Volusia County, Florida and would like a quote from you with regards to treating a space I’ve been asked to fix.
It always amazes me when people spend the money to build a room without any regard to the acoustical consequences.
This is one such room.
This room is approx 60 feet long by 40 ft wide and the side walls go to 23 ft with a pitch up to the center ceiling of 24 ft. The reverb decay time is roughly close to 10 seconds and speech is indistinguishable. The floor is concrete. the ceiling is dry wall and the walls are block concrete.
This room will be used for overflow congregation from the church and also serve as a gym which will be outfitted with basketball hoops on each end.
The first thought in ways to reduce the reverb time would be to treat the wall surfaces with acoustical carpet glued directly to the wall.Secondly deploying acoustical clouds hanging from the ceiling to address floor to ceiling echos.
An alternate consideration would be to line the wall surfaces with 1 inch hard fiberglass (Owens Corning 703) covered with fabric backed with luan or a thin sheet of plywood for rigidity. These panels (4 x 8 ft) would be installed on the walls, possibly starting up at around 7 ft to the ceiling. This alternative would most likely prove costlier than the initial approach.
Please share your insight as to how you’d treat this situation.
Thank you for the E-mail. Wow, that room looks like it was designed to BE an echo chamber! 🙂 Isn’t it amazing that these rooms are built and then the acoustics are considered? For this one, I’ve got a very straight forward approach that has worked in every instance where it was used.
I’ve been asked “How many panels do I need?” enough times that I figured that there had to be a relationship between the size/volume of a room an the number of panels that made people comfortable in that room because in a gym or a swimming pool one might need a few hundred panels but in an office or a classroom one might need only a handful.
Here is the equation:
Cubic volume x 3% = square footage of panels
So, for this room:
60 x 40 x 23.5 (average ceiling height) = 56,400
56,400 x 0.03 = 1,692
This room needs ~1,690 square feet of panels.
I would probably start by installing some kind of acoustical panel onto the ceiling of the room. I really like the ceiling for rooms like this because if they are used as a gym, by the time a basketball gets up there it has probably slowed down pretty considerably. Also, the panels might tend to be a little bit less distracting on the ceiling than they would on the walls. This, however, is just my opinion and the panels can actually be installed anywhere in the room and have the same affect on the space. If the church feels like the walls are a better choice, the acoustical result will be just about identical. For this type of room, we are just looking to “take the edge off” so the exact location is not critical. The square footage is the thing that should be considered the most.
Another thing that I run into all the time for projects like this is that the budget to fix the problem is quite lean, and understandably so. Building is expensive. I usually send out three product samples for churches in situations like this to consider. They include:
Before getting too involved in the details, in just about every installation, the Echo Eliminator panels are the panels that people end up purchasing for a few reasons. First is the cost. These are some of the most cost effective, Class A rated acoustical panels on the market. They are also some of the most absorbent. They are not the most aesthetically pleasing panels in the world, nor are they the most abuse resistant, but if they are put on the ceiling or high up on the walls, you are so far away from them when you’re standing on the ground, that you are not likely to notice anyway. Now, when you’re holding them in your hand it’s another story, but people don’t usually consider that, they will be mounted at a pretty significant distance.
The Sound Silencer panels are much more impact resistant, but are twice the cost and half as acoustical. The Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass panels are MUCH more decorative looking and just as absorbent, but they are probably three or four times the cost as the Echo Eliminator panels. Most people who are sitting in a church board meeting looking at samples REALLY want to go with the Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass option, but when they compare the quotes, it’s usually not in the budget.